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Progressive Revival

Battle of the Bishops

It continues…Memphis Bishop Terry Steib this week called on Catholics not to be “one-issue” voters, in contrast to Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput (whose latest comments in a talk titled “Little Murders” were especially strong) and some others. Steib, in this NCR piece, says “We must recognize that God through the Church, is calling us to be prophetic in our own day. If our conscience is well formed, then we will make the right choices about candidates who may not support the Church’s position in every case.”


Citing words from a statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a voting guide issued last November by the Bishops of the United States, Steib wrote that “there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

(Read Steib’s full text here.)

Steib is one of just a dozen African-American Catholic bishops, which some say will have informed his statements. But Steib has never been one to speak his mind, in a gentle voice, on a range of issues that might perturb some of his brethren among the 285 or so active bishops.


In his Washington Post column today, E.J. Dionne notes that Steib–and Los Angeles auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala, who voice similar views to Steib’s–are in the majority among the bishops. In that sense, the bishops may be in tune with Catholic voters. Latinos are surely going for Obama, and he may be splitting to elusive white Catholic vote.  

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posted October 21, 2008 at 10:29 pm

‘The abortion conflict has never simply been about repealing Roe v. Wade. And the many pro-lifers I know live a much deeper kind of discipleship than “single issue” politics. But they do understand that the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching is protecting human life from conception to natural death. They do understand that every other human right depends on the right to life. They did not and do not and will not give up — and they won’t be lied to.’
That statement by Archbishop Chaput would seem to indicate he’s not advocating a one-issue voting approach; rather upholding the dignity of all human life is a fundamental issue which carries considerably more weight than peripheral issues.
Bishop Steib said, “there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”
One could as easily infer that the pro-abortion lobby-linked female ‘reproductive rights’ (the right to choose), viewed as a ‘narrow interest’ coupled with Democratic sentimentality, popular among Latinos and ethnic caucasians, wouldn’t be suffice as ‘grave’ moral reasons along with ignoring the moral evil of abortion.
Archbishop Chaput in his speech states, “Speaking for myself, I do not know any proportionate reason that could outweigh more than 40 million unborn children killed by abortion and the many millions of women deeply wounded by the loss and regret abortion creates.”
E.J. Dionne, in his piece, didn’t mention Bishop Steib; he did say, however, “Zavala was careful to say that he did not want to take issue with any of his fellow bishops. But his view contrasts with that of others in the hierarchy.”
I failed to gather any referance to the predominant viewpoint of the majority of Catholic bishops in his piece. ‘Catholic’ voters, however, is an entirely different ball of wax, as many parishioners at my parish seem willing to overlook the fundamental life issue.

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Randy Hammond

posted October 17, 2009 at 4:52 am

Bishop Steib is more oriented toward political correctness than the Catechism of the Church. He issued a letter a few years back when John Kerry made his presidential run indicating it was okay for politicians to actively support abortion. I refuted that in the following letter. I must say, he softened his view in his response. My letter follows:
Dear Bishop Steib,
I read your commentary, “A Hospital for Sinners…”, in The West Tennessee Catholic and was disappointed to learn of your position. I was left quite confused and decided to conduct research into this issue myself and the following represents my findings.
I certainly agree with the spirit of trying to reach out to sinners, including those who support abortion. However, I believe that providing the sacrament of the Eucharist to those who not simply support abortion, but are actively engaged in influencing others to support the practice, is inconsistent with the teachings and Catechism of the Catholic Church. Political personalities aside, your position is contradictory and I believe it does not meet the test of 2000 years of Church teachings.
The Church provides specific guidelines regarding our preparation to receive the Lord’s body and blood in Communion. This includes that the communicant be in a state of grace, have made a good confession since commission of mortal sin, believe in transubstantiation, observe the Eucharist fast and to not be under ecclesiastical censure. These are absolute requirements. To receive the Eucharist without sanctifying grace profanes the Eucharist in a grievous manner,
Your argument centers on the preeminence of man’s conscience and you state that “conscience is the final arbiter of right and wrong”. This contradicts my Catholic education, which left no question in my mind that the law of God was the ‘final arbiter’. I was never taught that the conscience of a single man trumps the will and law of God and that such a humanistic template for personal behavior is dangerous and only serves to provide the illusion of freedom. This was one of the lessons provided by the parable of the prodigal son—the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house and resultant misery.
You ask the question, “Can any minister judge what is in some else’s conscience?” Conscience is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. However, individual actions and accountability for those actions are what really matters in this argument. The Catechism provides the following guidance regarding Reconciliation: “Through such an administration man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church on order to make a new future possible.” The politician who advocates abortion is not repentant and, thus, does not assume the required responsibility for his actions in his conscience. Given this, he is not in communion with God and sins when he participates in the sacrament of Communion. It is as the apostle John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Thus, not only is the politician who advocates abortion not in communion with God, he is incapable of achieving this based upon his continued and willful actions.
The Catechism is very specific on the matter of preparation for communion: “To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself’ (1 Cor. 11:27-28). Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.”
According to the Catechism, the sinner must be: “contrite of heart, confess with the lips and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.” Additionally, and a very key point in contrast to your argument, “Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul’ and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution to not sin again.”
This is the nature of the inconsistency of your commentary. Let’s assume an individual is an active political advocate of abortion. Even if they confess their sin but they know in their heart (with their political conscience as their guide and ‘final arbiter’) that they will continue to repeat this grave sin, it is impossible for them to be in a state of grace. The Catechism refers to this as “imperfect contrition”. Regarding this, the Catechism provides the following guidance, “By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.”
The logical extension of this, in contrast to your assertions, is that a politician who supports abortion, even if he confesses his mortal sin but is resolved to continue to support the practice, has engaged in ‘imperfect contrition’ and should not participate in Communion. The Catechism states that “Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion”. The Didache witnesses to this practice in the early Church. “But first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one” (Didache 14). The 1983 Code of Canon Law made it clear that these requirements still exist today. “A person who is conscious of a grave sin is not to…receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession…in this case the person must be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition…”.
Bishop Steib, I respect your position and you personally. However, I find the position you took in the commentary disheartening and one that will serve to create confusion and emotional conflict. You mention politics several times. In my mind this issue is not about politics, it’s about right/wrong and Church law. In these days of rapid social change I believe all Catholics need to ensure our clearly articulated and time-tested beliefs are not compromised in the interest of political expedience.
Randy Hammond

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